By on April 2, 2012

A while ago, the UAW started passing out signature cards at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga, TN. It looks like most landed in the garbage can.

The UAW needs signatures from at least 30 percent of the workers before a representation election can go ahead. There is no information on how many (or how few) signatures the UAW received. However, Gary Casteel, director of the UAW’s District 8 says now that the UAW wasn’t serious. Casteel told The Tennessean:

“We have not started an official organizing campaign. What got some people up in arms is that we passed out some cards, but they were never about setting up an election. The cards were just gauging the level of support.”

The paper sees older workers at the Volkswagen plant as more supportive of the union than younger employees are. Says the Chattanooga paper:

“Some younger workers fear they could lose some of their current benefits if the union negotiates a contract with Volkswagen.”

Chances are pretty rotten for a union if workers fear that they get less after they sign.  The workforce appeared pretty youthful when we had visited the plant last year.

The comments to the article in the Tennessean reflect the cautious mood in Chattanooga. “The UAW will only protect the drunks, drug addicted, lazy, thieves and those who are chronically absent,” says a Dennis Tucker. “Don’t do it. The UAW is a bunch of self-serving thugs and will be bad for the employees,” a Ron Brown asks.


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23 Comments on “UAW Backpedals On Chattanooga: “No Official Organizing Campaign” At Volkswagen...”

  • avatar

    Who in the right mind would want to join the UAW these days?

    I mean honestly. You don’t make much if anything more, and you’re joining the losing team from a historical perspective. The best place to be is a non-union worker in an a unionized industry. You get a lot of benefits from the threat of unionization with none of the downside.

    • 0 avatar


      The union certainly had its purpose for the first half of the last century, but, in the automotive industry at least, I don’t think it’s needed anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      And thus, you see how “right-to-work” is really just a scam to hollow out worker protections and benefits over time. All VW (and the rest of the transplants) have to do is outlast the UAW, and then it’s goodbye benefits and hello $8 an hour.

      The sad part is that nobody believes it could happen in the auto industry, even when the exact same thing already happened to the many other manufacturing bases in the U.S.

      • 0 avatar

        Ah the beauty of the free market. This may very well be true. But if the Automakers get too silly then someone will organize and the cycle begins anew. I would think given the state of social media and what not nowadays it would be even easier to accomplish this.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe building cars isn’t a great career choice. This is America, we don’t have officials proclaiming what our profession will be at a young age.

        Workers can relocate, it’s really not that hard. Not far in any direction are competing factories, and they are free to go there.

        Or we can just hang a UAW sign on the place and guarantee they move the plants to some other country.

      • 0 avatar


        Most people don’t see it happening but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen.

        The UAW does need a better representative than Bob King. I wouldn’t buy a bag of beans from him.

      • 0 avatar

        @mrkirk – The reason why the UAW is simply outdated is that most states have passed laws giving workers protection that the unions provided (so you now have quite a lot of redundancy but with the added taxes [i.e. union fees]). As unions are past their prime of doing any good and we have global competitors that do not have to pay the significantly higher labor costs.

      • 0 avatar

        Not true. The Toyota Lean Production System is based on empowering workers, and then paying them what they are worth. Toyota isn’t going to pay workers $8 an hour, as it won’t get the type of workers (those who can contribute to the production process and use their initiative to improve the product) at those wages.

        Incidentally, it may help to learn about the history of the auto industry before making statements such as this. Even before the formation of the UAW, autoworkers were relatively well paid compared to other industrial workers. Their complaints centered on the pace of the assembly line (the goal was to produce as many cars as possible, so plant managers pushed workers to the limit) and the seasonal nature of the work, as most brand-new cars were sold in the spring and summer during the 1920s and 1930s. The workers were thus faced with regular layoffs.

    • 0 avatar

      UAW are well on their way to bankruptcy without more gift from Obama. They need newer suckers to fill the coffer.

    • 0 avatar

      dude you dont even have a clue about unions do you. Il tell you who would want to join, someone who wants a fair livible wage, a safe work enviroment, a say in the company, fair and equal treatment and pay, diversity no discrimination, a good retirement, no fear of losing your job just because the boss is having a bad day, or doenst like you, set work hours, required breaks, uninterrupted lunches. decent medical vision and dental insurance And actually you do make more with a union job. So what is exactly is the downside???? You may think the reason why the auto industry jobs have declined in the last 20-30 years is because of the unions but its not. Free trade deals, also pressure from the EPA for the plants to be cleaner puts a huge pricetag on the operation costs of running the plants. Also taxes local and state and federal pay a big part of the deal.

  • avatar

    Link to The Tennessean article referenced:|newswell|text|Business|p

  • avatar

    If VW infects the South by becoming the first union car plant here, I’ll never buy another VW.

    VW fan here; own a V8 and a W12.

    I don’t care if my VWs were built by union workers in Europe; VW and its unions are welcome to wreck their own economies over there.

    Just don’t come and screw up ours.

    • 0 avatar

      The German auto industry has had strong unions for many years, and their economy is far from “wrecked,” even with a far more generous welfare state. Unions haven’t stopped VW from achieving record size and profitability, just like they didn’t stop GM from reaching global domination by the middle of the 1950’s.

      I think you just despise the idea of auto assembly as a legitimate profession; you would probably get more satisfaction out of your chariots if you knew that they were assembled by workers who were poorly paid and mistreated.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s my understanding that only the expensive German cars are built in Germany and the mass market affordable VWs are built in Mexico (and Tennessee). A Jetta built in Germany would be definitely UNaffordable.

        UAW is a textbook case that unions can’t sustain wages above market levels. That can only work where the employer has some kind of monopoly and can easily pass increased costs to the customer (examples: airlines before deregulation or any government entity)

      • 0 avatar

        We have now learnt that, from one perspective, the notion of the Euro was to open poorer European countries to German industry and then loan them their own money in order to buy the newly-available German product. So, really, German industry and unions have simply wrecked *other* countries’ economies, other than their own.

        American auto unions, on the other hand, are more efficient: They have managed to wreck both some of the economies they sell to AND the local economies from which they operate.

      • 0 avatar

        If the German unions are so great for VW, why have they built factories in China, India, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Nigeria, the Republic of Kazakhstan, Spain, Poland, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, the Ukraine, Taiwan, and the US?

      • 0 avatar

        Have you ever been to Germany, Pintoboy? The lifestyle isn’t anything you would find here.Unions were good in the day but, they have gone too far and they are all passe’ now.

  • avatar

    It’s not as if autoworkers in the US are underpaid, abused or forced to work in unsafe environments! With all the regulation and mandates laid down by the federal government there is very little that any union can do for its members.

    If the UAW had set a better precedent prior to 2009, maybe two of its employers would not have had to declare bankruptcy. As it is, that stigma will hang over the prospect of unionizing or organizing any non-union shop well into the distant future.

    Why unionize and have the union collectively bargain you out of your job and force your employer to declare bankruptcy? That’s biting the hand that feeds you.

    • 0 avatar

      Why is it the UAW’s fault that these companies went under?

      They rode the SUV trend too hard and when gas prices went up in 2008, they paid for it.

      Ditto on loaning money to people with bad credit and watching them default.

      GM and Chrysler deserved what they got at the time. They failed to keep up with the times.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve read that GM had $2000 in extra labor/benefits costs per car over their competitors. Let’s use that for this example.

        Imagine that both GM and Honda have the Civic. It’s exactly the same car in every way; equally attractive, equally reliable etc. Honda sells this car for 19K and makes 1 thousand per car.

        GM has to sell the car at 21K to make the same amount of money as Honda. It has to charge 20k to break even, and lose 1 grand to price match Honda.

        So, GM can’t sell this car because it costs too much. Can’t cut labor costs, so the parts have to go. They trim 2 grand from the material cost of the car. Now they can price the car competitively!

        But the car is substantially worse. Who wants a car that is substantially less reliable or less appealing for the same amount of money? No one.

        So they have to cut more off the materials. Say 5 grand. Now they can charge 16 thousand for it, but jesus mary, it’s a stinker. But by the time they clear 1 grand from the car, it’s still only three grand less than a car that is way, way better now. That’s not a lot of daylight, and sales suffer. GM can’t just stop making the thing because then CAFE bites them in the ass. They NEED to sell a ton of these crappy cars.

        So you cut more. And more. And that’s how you get the Aveo and the Cavalier and the Cobalt.

        The unions helped a lot in forcing GM to make shitty small cars, which ruined their brand reputations and contributed to the endless market share erosion.

        It’s not all the UAW’s fault, but certainly they did their fair share in ensuring GM’s collapse.

  • avatar

    In “The Machine That Changed the World” the authors show how unions retard quality initiatives by protecting the craftsman mentality. Kaizen and continuous improvement efforts are hampered if companies can’t constantly re-engineer the lines and re-define jobs. Unions inherently drag this process.

    In the 70s and 80s, this is what kept quality down in European manufacturers. Workers did not accept changes to their duties. These craftsmen did too much work at their stations. Measurement was very difficult, and if you can’t mesaure you can’t manage.

    These days, continuous improvement is the last hope for labor in high-cost countries. If the managers can’t ride the learning curve and constantly adjust, then efficiencies can’t be gained.

    The reason why VW and other European cars were always such poor quality vs. the Japanese is fully explained in the book. It’s an older book, but the images of giant “rework floors” where newly finished cars have their build issues reworked are very vivid.

    Best book on the auto industry, as far as I’m concerned.

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